Warpaint formed in Los Angeles in 2004 with Emily Kokal on vocals and guitar, Theresa Wayman guitar and vocals, Jenny Lee Lindberg on bass and backing vocals and her sister Shannyn Sossamon on drums. This line up made the excellent Exquisite Corpse EP after which Sossamon left to pursue an acting career. Replaced by Australian drummer Stella Mogzawa they recorded their first album The Fool in 2010.
To me the band sounds like they may be ghosts from 1978 playing that sparse, stark creative adventure that the Au Pairs or Delta 5 occupied but with more moody restraint and therefore with touches of Wire or the early Cure. Still, you can hear that they have their own vision and that’s where the magic lies.
Since these early days, remembering that the band have now been together for 10 years, they arrive in 2014 with their latest album produced by Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s George Martin and Flood, U2’s Geoff Emerick – in reversed roles. With this mega hip, mega successful pair (in any configuration) they have embarked on a journey that desperately must maintain all those wonderful things about Warpaint and guide them towards even greater things. The Fool is a hard act to follow, interesting arrangement ideas, keyboard parts, tremolo effects, echoey vocals and melodies that must have taken some serious working out, plus surprisingly, acoustic guitars are not out of place amongst the Jazzmasters and Jaguars. Their first two releases have been a fascinating and particular sound, more likely to come out of England than Los Angeles.
The latest album definitely goes somewhere else and the album begins with a false start in Mogzawa’s impressive drumming getting our attention right from the start and showing how their confidence even makes them proud of their mistakes. It’s decidedly Cure like guitars and fake intro becomes Keep It Healthy’s atmospheric arpeggio pattern that sets up a really striking opener. It works on so many levels – it’s moody but not soft, melodic but not sweet and the melody is catchy without being obvious.
The single Love Is To Die is next, a hypnotic beat, moody soundscape and pushy bass. The melody seems lost in the song but when the chorus come in it’s irresistible – those background low key echoey Jazz/Jaguars are at it again. The drums and bass are special, the arrangement is unpredictable and it is a mesmerising song.
Hi is next, voice and bass and you really have no idea where it’s going – it’s unpredictable and then that dance bass drum comes in with the bass line pumping and we are in another territory altogether. I call it ‘Danscape’, I love it.
Biggy starts off with a moody sound that goes into a synth line in reverb and you see that they are really experimenting now, but the backings just make them modern, make them now, it’s the melodies that will give them their lifespan. They have become that interesting hybrid, electronic with guitars and again they sound decidedly English, they could be from Bristol and Jenny Lee Lindberg’s Reggae bass is integral to their African rooted, electronic, Bristolian, L.A. stew.
On Teese, the acoustic and reverby double soft vocals set up an eerie background synth. As the song progresses it starts getting into Fever Ray territory….like that’s a bad thing!
Jenny Lee is back with her Reggae bass on Disco//Very, digging in on a song that might have come from the Tom Tom Club but weirder, Dagmar Krause perhaps or Nina Hagen’s later musical visions. It’s bewitching.
By the time we get to Go In you realise that Flood and Nigel Godrich have certainly succeeded in helping Warpaint realise their creative ideas, they’ve let them lose with their vision and they have enhanced it. This sounds to me like it’s all very much the band’s ideas, their need to grow, to try something different and they have been lucky enough to have two real masters help them achieve it.
At this point I’m already looking forward to hear it again before I even reached the end of the record! Feeling Alright cements their style. What an original and interesting band, they have invented their own special rhythm with Mogzawa and Lindberg and with two singer guitarists in Kokal and Wayman they have endless understanding and ideas.
CC comes next and you can hear that chemistry working again and Flood tying it together. It’s not straightforward, it’s out there, it needs faith to write it, it needs someone to understand it and an open minded receptive audience to appreciate it. In some ways it’s obscure but it makes you swing along as if someone suddenly gave you a book in the Cyrillic alphabet and you could just read it.
Drive keeps us on the road to this unknown musical destination and you just keep on driving into the mist without question. It hovers above the ground that you know is there but you just can’t see.
The album concludes with Son, piano, double vocal, this is one of their tricks, singing together in unison ( I think). It’s like the credits going up on a film, a farewell.
This record has imagination, unpredictability and most of all a vision that all four members are at one with. They are inspired, musically adept and have a chemistry that allows them to believe in their art, see it through and thankfully it’s a vision that others can see too, allowing us the benefit of blissfully weaving through their winding corridors.